On the road… paved in phosphorus

A few stories to tell but I’m limiting myself to two pictures each (for now) from my latest locales. Hopefully this short taste also passes as an explanation for my brevity.

Fes, Morocco. A welcome immersion back into reality after a 4 day conference on phosphorus (i.e. my thesis topic) at an over-the-top beach resort on the Moroccan coast. The off-season calmness drew my travel pal, Desiree, and I right into the depths of the old market, the Medina. We wove our way through the smallest pathways, around donkeys carrying amazing loads, dodging school children and the tourist hounds, sipping freshly pressed orange juice (the one and only medicine in my opinion), and saturating ourselves with the scents of their world. I can still close my eyes and feel it.

Recovering from the flu (hence my love for the OJ), frequent breaks were needed. Upon arrival in a breath-taking Koran school in the middle of the Medina, we took a sweet seat to gaze at the Arabic scriptures forming patterns upon patterns of beautiful symbolism. The colorful tiles also playing their part in reminding about different aspects of Islam, you find the 8 pointed stars in blue and green all over Fes.

Late flights leading to missed flights leading to layovers and a whole lot of ‘airport appreciation’ time- needless to say my trip to Japan was a little bumpy. Safely arrived and fighting the fuzz of jetlag, I am finding myself enjoying the extreme foreign-ness and also the incredible closeness of Japan. The people are so kind and accommodating, even if it is a forced sincerity, I will never complain of someone who constantly smiles to complete strangers. On the other hand, I’m not in a majorly touristy city. A few things are written in ‘English’ letters, however mostly not. I’m at a loss as I walk through the streets and in restaurants- what is that store even selling? can I eat this thing? Yestarday I went to a restaurant that looked beautiful, and it was. I somehow mimed a vegetable and got a delicious salad. A British guy and Japanese girl started up a conversation and I found out I was actually at a French restaurant. I would never have guessed. I’m on my toes now, trying to catch non-language signs. We’ll see how it goes. My airplane food was a fun introduction- who doesn’t love flower-shaped vegetables?

And if all else fails, food-wise, I can always turn to the trusty vending machines on every corner.

Oh yeah, I’m also here for more phosphorus research. I swear!

 

Aha, has it been a month already?

Mostly I just have a bunch of pictures that I wanted to share. But indeed it has been over a month since I have been in Zurich and tomorrow marks an entire month of school.

 What an experience it has been so far. There are certainly moments of confusion and loneliness as I get used to living in a different culture. But looking back over the last 30 days, the overwhelming feeling has been one of stepping out onto the edge to realize that I won’t fall in. It has taken some serious self-trust to believe that I’m probably not as weird as I think I am to the people around me 🙂 They don’t know my family though…  

Each day I am challenged by new opportunities to meet and connect with people, finding out what it means to be a foreigner, and work through the language barriers while trying not to lose my own English along the way. I am constantly asked to correct English and pronunciation, which I am happy to do but I hate being the bearer of bad news to say that, “No, you cannot say that you ‘stood up at 7am this morning’, it’s probably better to use ‘woke up’. ” (one of the funny direct translations from German).

But the conversations are usually enlightening for myself and the other person. And the Swiss have an expression that is used more often than you would realize, the simple: ‘Aha’ (with a sort of drawn out second syllable and light intonation on the first). It breaks down all judgements of wrongdoing and quickly leads everyone to an open mind to learn something new.  I tease my family here about it, but truthfully I have already adopted the custom as well!

Each week is full of ‘Aha’ moments that my peers fill with interesting facts about Switzerland, language, food, music and all the rest. And I am more than happy to be open to it.

Not to say there haven’t been the occasional other types of moments, but I’m happy to pass those off as culture shock and stick with what makes me happy. And speaking of culture shock, I went to an interesting workshop on it, presented especially for international students. Rather eye-opening and quite hilarious as we went through many of the typical Swiss stereotypes. One was presented as the map below which is scary how true it is. (And just in case you can’t tell, I’m in the Odd German and English spoken bit)swiss map

So to stick with being a tidy/punctual/chocolate eating Swiss student, I will get on to the pictures.

First stop, the Zurich Zoo! One lovely Sunday afternoon in the fall was spent walking around with some fellow Canadians at ETH. I certainly have a special place in my heart for the Calgary Zoo, so no zoo will quite compare, but this one had a few great moments.

Baby Galapagos Turtles. Well these ones appeared to be babies compared to the elders who were a meter in length!
Baby Galapagos Turtles. Well these ones appeared to be babies compared to the elders who were a meter in length!
I still can barely comprehend that this sign exists. It reads 'Watch out, this is where I feel at home'
I still can barely comprehend that this sign exists. It reads 'Watch out, this is where I feel at home'
Another amazing educational sign
Another amazing educational sign
Inside the tropical forest, this guy slowly turned fully green.
Inside the tropical forest, this guy slowly turned fully green.

Next up, a music show I went to with a handful of Environmental Science students. The drummer, though you can barely see him, is also in Environmental Sciences. You can check out the band here www.myspace.com/coldeve to hear their awesome electro-rock. The guy in the front was dancing from the first moment, and the rest of us joined in by the end. A really great night.

Coldeve and their biggest fan
Coldeve and their biggest fan

And finally, from where I take walks/runs. Up the hill from where I live, through the community gardens and onto the beautiful panoramic of the city and lake.

At night, walking past the garden plots
At night, walking past the garden plots
One of the numerous public fountains
One of the numerous public fountains
Lake Zurich at dusk
Lake Zurich at dusk
Zurich at dusk
Zurich at dusk

 

A few last words:

Thank you for all the comments and e-mails. I love hearing what you think and how you are doing!

Happy Birthday Zahra! xoxo

And if you made it this far, one more stereotype joke…

Heaven is where…

the police are British, the chefs French, the mechanics German, the lovers Italian and it is all organized by the Swiss.

Hell is where…

the police are German, the chefs British, the mechanics French, the lovers Swiss and it is all organized by the Italians.

Environmental Science Master’s Weekend

What a weekend! I just got back from two days up in the mountains with my fellow Environmental Scientists. With plenty of new faces and new stories, the weekend was full of meeting people and discovering their backgrounds, their reasons for coming to ETH, and testing their Canadian geography (which proved to be quite good, but foruntaley not enough to know all the stereotypes). 

Other than learning about one another, the conversations dealt heavily with language- native languages, comfort in foreign languages and all the diverse cultural aspects that relate directly to local language. It was fascinating and the big questions for myself and my friend, Andrea, who is from Ontario, were about the Quebec ‘accent’ and that Irish slang they have going on in Newfoundland. Amongst the French speakers, a good ‘Ouai!’ always found common ground as they were all keen on learning to speak it. I never would have guessed…  🙂

I’ve provided a handful of the best pictures from the weekend to show some examples of what real Swiss people look like, a working tropical greenhouse, and plenty of breathtaking views as we hiked below, through and above an incredible fog.

Our first stop of the weekend was a tropical greenhouse using waste heat from a nearby Natural Gas compression station. The heat is used to warm the greenhouse to grow organic fruits for local markets and high end restaurants. An incredible project that has brought investment into this small agricultural area, as well as captured some of the huge energy off of the compressor station (they said about 100 GW hours of which about 50% is captured through the greenhouse and heating a local hospital).

The group headed to the tropical greenhouse
The group headed to the tropical greenhouse
Looking over the papaya plants to the banana palms
Looking over the papaya plants to the banana palms
My favourite: Tilapia ponds providing nutrient filled water for the plants!
My favourite: Tilapia ponds providing nutrient filled water for the plants!

They also employed a Greenwater System using Tilapia fish (which at maturity can be sold as food) in ponds where the water is recirculated to the tropical plants. The murky green water, which gives this system its name, is full of nutrients from the metabolic processes of the fish and is ideal for the plants as well as for the fish. The whole system comes very close to being nutrient and water neutral. A very impressive setup!

Next, we were headed up to a mountain area called Napf. We had a few stops along the way to take in the incredible view and taste some local food. First though, we were in a small village with some locals who asked  us to take their picture. Well, I snapped one too because they were just too great.

Real Swiss People in front of a typical Swiss mountain house
Real Swiss People in front of a typical Swiss mountain house

We hiked about 3 hours, through mostly open fields looking out over the neighbouring valleys, villages and grazing areas. As we got higher we began to get closer and closer to the misty clouds/ fog above us.

Looking out
Looking out
Local vegetation
Local vegetation
Into the fog
Into the fog
It felt like we were entering into another world...
It felt like we were entering into another world...

Then we met some goats!

DSCN4365
Out of the mist...
I bonded with this one
I bonded with this one

Then we found who the goats belonged to- the farmhouse at the top of this rise had a stand selling their dried sausage, goat cheeses, and apple cider. I love Switzerland!

Mid-hike refreshments
Mid-hike refreshments

A little further up and we passed out of the clouds and were on top of the Napf! A lovely old farmhouse that fed and housed us (as well as some of the other hikers that made it up). Our group wandered around looking into the mist below and thoroughly enjoyed the moment of floating above the clouds.

Napf
Napf
Jumping at sunset above the clouds
Jumping at sunset above the clouds
horses around the house
horse around the house
The view at sunset
The view at sunset

 We eventually made it in for a typical alpine meal and some tasty dessert. Plenty of story-telling and singing ensued but we knew what was awaiting us the next day- the 4.5 hour trek down.

Meringues, ice cream and whipped cream!
Meringues, ice cream and whipped cream!

Overall, the hikes were stunning, the food was great and the company proved to be very entertaining. A 10/10 for this one.